Surface Pro 3: Thinner, Lighter, More Powerful
Microsoft disappoints some, however, when it doesn't unveil a Surface "mini" at press event.
If good things come in threes, Microsoft's refreshed tablet may be a hit.
On the other hand, if you were hoping that Microsoft was planning on launching the rumored Surface "mini" today, you'll have to wait for another day. Instead, the company announced the Surface Pro 3, which appears to address key issues of the previous two versions. Microsoft debuted it today at a press event in New York.
If you buy the notion that Microsoft's third attempt at a new product typically is when it lands a hit, the Surface Pro 3 at first glance should be in the queue to maintain that track record. The Surface Pro 3 is thinner and lighter than the Surface Pro 2 at just 0.36 inches and weighing 1.76 pounds. While the Surface Pro 2 only comes with an Intel Core i5 processor, the Surface Pro 3 is available with different Intel Core processors: i3, i5 and i7.
The new 12-inch device is slightly bigger than its 10.6-inch predecessor but at the same time has the feel of a full-sized laptop. In fact, Panos Panay, Microsoft's corporate VP for Surface, described the Surface Pro 3 as "the tablet that can replace your laptop," during today's introduction.
At first glance, the Surface Pro 3 feels marginally heavier than the Surface 2 -- which runs Windows RT 8.1 -- but significantly lighter than the Surface Pro 2. It's also more pleasing aesthetically. At any rate, Microsoft positioned today's launch as a major event. "Our goal is to create new categories and spark new demand for our ecosystem," said Satya Nadella, who made a brief introductory remarks at today's event. "Today is a major milestone in that journey."
The 12-inch ClearType HD display offers a much higher resolution: 2160x1440 and a 3:2 aspect ratio. It supports up to 8GB of RAM and the company said it can get up to nine hours of battery life. While offering a true tablet that could replace a laptop has been Microsoft's goal from the outset for the Surface team, there are a number of reasons that may now be the case, or at least why the company has gotten much closer, with the new model.
The systems are enterprise-ready in that a power user can now get a configuration with a powerful i7 Core processor, up to 8GB of RAM and a 512GB solid state drive. For those with more moderate needs, an Intel Core i3 processor is also available with as little as 64GB of storage. Price will of course vary on configuration but it starts at $799.
Microsoft also addressed a couple of key pet peeves of many Surface users, notably the difficulty in using it on your lap. The new keyboard that can click into the Surface Pro 3 was designed in such a way that it will not wobble in your lap. A new track pad in the keyboard is improved and you can adjust the Surface Pro 3 keyboard in any position.
Like the Surface Pro 2, the new unit is available with an optional docking station and a new aluminum Surface Pro Pen designed specifically for this device. The Surface Pro Pen offers 256 levels of pressure sensitivity.
Emphasizing that the Surface 3 is targeted at commercial use, the company said it is working with some key ISVs including SAP, Dassault Systèmes and Adobe, among others. Panay invited Michael Gough, Adobe's VP of Experience Design, on stage to reveal plans to optimize the Adobe Photoshop CC for touch on the new Surface Pro 3.
"It's a creator's dream come true," Gough said. "It's really, really easy to interact with the screen, the pen input is natural, the performance is great."
One key thing missing in the accessories lineup was its power keyboard, offered with the Surface Pro 2. Company officials wouldn't say if one comes packed in. Also, while Microsoft has made key strides in getting popular software vendors to offer their wares in the Windows Store, it still lags behind the Apple iTunes App Store and Google Play.
Microsoft will start accepting preorders tomorrow and the devices are slated to ship June 20.
Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.